The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni – Book Review

The Eighth Sister book cover

Do they really have to reactivate a 64-year-old geezer for the CIA, just to send him to Moscow as a spy? Couldn’t they find someone older? Sure, we know that 60 is the new 40, but if the successor organization to the KGB, the FSB, were to chase this guy, wouldn’t it be better to go for a robust young sprinter instead?

And while we’re on appearances: wouldn’t a blonde, Slavic-looking person with a good-natured, foolish expression be more suitable for a Russian job than an African American? Just in case, let’s say, the FSB accidentally starts pursuing him and wants to chase him all over half of Russia. Just to blend in with the crowd more easily.

A faint chance does appear that the FSB will become suspicious of Charles Jenkins. Because he goes there to interfere with one of their operations. The Russians start eliminating the so-called seven sisters, CIA spies operating in deep cover in Russia for decades. Three sisters (Masha, Olga, and Irina – if I remember their names correctly) were already taken care of.

But not only are the sisters dwindling, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the Tsar of all Russians, activates the eighth sister! Damn! Her task is to find the other seven and kill them. Jenkins is stuck with the thankless task of messing around until the eighth sister notices him. If that happens, he must identify this evil she-devil and then get out immediately.

And now, let’s pause for a moment! Let’s use our brains!

Nobody knows who the seven sisters are, okay? Just a few bigwigs at the CIA. Vladimir Vladimirovich could even activate our dear Auntie Maggie as the eighth sister; the old lady will never find the others in her life. It’s not her job. That’s the FSB’s job. And the sisters are dropping like flies. So, someone is already leaking information to the Russians. Therefore, the FSB could even plaster the names on the walls of the Lubyanka so that the eighth sister could comfortably study them if she happened to stroll by.

Done. Anyone could figure this out in two minutes without CIA training. Anyone, except Charles Jenkins, the main character of Robert Dugoni’s spy novel.

So what’s the deal with this eighth sister?

Well, Dugoni probably came up with a very catchy title but couldn’t manage to integrate it sensibly into his own story.

If you don’t believe it, here’s the evidence: the eighth sister doesn’t even appear in the book. No trace of her. The whole spy story is about how Jenkins gets into bigger and bigger trouble.

Dugoni’s spy novel is full of illogicalities, contradictions, and unrealistic actions. For example, two characters engaged in a life-or-death struggle suddenly become FRIENDS during the clash. A computer analyst turns into an action hero, exposing herself and essentially condemning herself to death. This character has convenient access to all intelligence materials, so he would easily get the information he’s looking for with a few clicks. (Silly Russians.)

Jenkins’ adventures in Russia, believe it or not, lead to a desperate escape. This 64-year-old, overaged spystarts being pursued by the FSB! (Gabriel Allon, the legendary Israeli master spy, cringes at the term “overaged.”) The process of escape, however, is so thrilling that it partly redeems Dugoni’s clumsily constructed spy novel. While reading, you can clearly see the book’s flaws, but the cat-and-mouse game between the American old man and the Russian counterintelligence officer, Colonel Fedorov, is so exciting that you can easily overlook them.

So, at one point, Dugoni’s spy novel turns into a pursuit thriller. If you think the espionage will continue after that, you’re mistaken. It turns into an unexpected courtroom drama: Jenkins puts himself on trial. Of course, he doesn’t do it on purpose. He’s just unaware that his former employer, the CIA, has a website where you can email them if you want to send them information.

The trial is more or less the same as the beginning of the book. Full of nonsense. It’s likely that you doubt that someone in the USA is being charged for something that MIGHT have happened in Russia and for which there is NO evidence. (The trial is about as strange as in “Where the Crawdads Sing.”)

But then Robert Dugoni surprises you again. The shamelessly pathetic jury trial is even more exciting than the previous, cross-border chase. Moreover, even if you feel like slapping Charles Jenkins due to his stubbornness, it’s tough to remain unaffected when an upright, family-loving, honest American patriot is unfairly accused and seemingly planned to put in jail by his own government.

The Eighth Sister, a spy novel by Robert Dugoni, is mediocre work, full of contradictions and confusing twists. And it remarkably lacks the title character! However, the excitement factor and emotional charge are so strong at times that it’s very difficult to extricate yourself from them. It wouldn’t be surprising if, after Dugoni’s average book, you decide you don’t want any more of the author’s books. Except, of course, for the sequel to The Eighth Sister because, well, you must find out if that evil tigress shows up.

7.3/10 (73%)

The Eighth Sister (Charles Jenkins, #1) by Robert Dugoni
465 pages, Paperback
Published 2019 by Thomas & Mercer

Leave a Comment